Natural Pain Relief
Twenty-seven million Americans are affected by osteoarthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. This chronic condition is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage in the joints, which often results in pain. Several natural remedies may help relieve ailing joints. AOL Health talked to experts to get their picks for natural pain relief.
Sulfur-Rich FoodsFoods containing high quantities of sulfur may help to reduce arthritis pain by decreasing joint inflammation. These foods include avocados, lentils, broccoli, cabbage, coconut, soy beans, and garlic. “When you’re taking herbs that shut down inflammation and you’re eating foods with sulfur in it, then you’re helping the body rebuild the cartilage,” says Casey Adams, Ph.D., doctor of naturopathic medicine and author of “Arthritis: The Botanical Solution.”
It may seem old-school, but experts say ingredients in specific herbs provide pain relief in the joints. "Boswellia is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine [the traditional medicine of India] to treat arthritis and reduce arthritis symptoms. Some doctors suggest using 400-800 mg of gum resin extract in capsules or tablets three times per day," explains Carrie Plumley, homeopathic and herbal expert for the Vitamin Shoppe. "Anti-inflammatory herbs come in combos quite often. These herbs may inhibit the formation of prostaglandins, which cause inflammation," adds Eileen Klein, M.D., FACP with Summit Medical Group.
Additionally,dandelion, grapple plant, myrrh and juniper have a history of relieving aches and pains. They interrupt the inflammation process and help to increase the circulation in the joints. “Most arthritis cases are based upon the immune system going into a panic mode because you have inflammation,” Adams says. These herbs help strengthen the immune system. Though it could take three to six months to feel these herbs’ benefits, Adams asserts that the pain may then permanently subside.
Meadowsweet and Willow Bark
When tested against aspirin, these herbs have similar pain-relieving results. But unlike aspirin, these herbs increase the secretion of the stomach mucus membrane. This helps avoid aspirin’s side effects like stomach pain, bleeding and ulcers. “Practically every study done on natural herbs has found that there are basically no side effects,” Adams says.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include fish oils, flaxseed oils, green leafy vegetables and eggs. Our bodies take these omega-3 fatty acids and convert them into certain hormones that help to relieve arthritis pain. “You need enough omega-3 in the diet for your body to produce these anti-inflammatory hormones,” says Bruce Fife, doctor of naturopathic medicine and author of “The New Arthritis Cure.” “Unfortunately our diet yields more omega-6.” Omega-6 fatty acids, found in vegetable oils, promote inflammation.
A diet high in antioxidants (think blueberries, cherries and artichokes), will help to reduce arthritis pain by reducing inflammation. Free radicals often cause damage to the body’s cells including joints’ cartilage cells, called chondrocytes. “If you have plenty of antioxidants in your daily diet it will neutralize those free radicals,” Adams says. See our list of antioxdiant-rich foods.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers that makes them hot and is used in ointments to decrease pain in joints. “In the pain fibers we have in our bodies there is a substance P [a chemical that acts as a pain messenger in the body]; the capsaicin seems to deplete the substance out of the pain fibers, desensitizing them,” says Douglas Flory, M.D., orthopaedic surgeon. Topical capsaicin often causes a burning sensation in its initial application, and it typically takes several weeks to feel its benefits.
“Hyaluronic acid is the liquid that lubricates your joints,” says Doug Kalman, Ph.D., R.D., and research director at Miami Research Center. “It’s one of the alternatives, or items, that your physician can pick from, to treat joint pain related to osteoarthritis.” Though our bodies make hyaluronic acid -- it’s synthesized in cartilage’s synovial fluid -- people with osteoarthritis have less of the substance in their joints, providing less lubrication and shock absorbance, and causing pain. Doctors can inject hyaluronic acid into joints to treat the pain, which may also stimulate the body to produce the acid.
Jason Theodosakis, M.D. and author of "The Arthritis Cure," explains that pycnogenol is made from French maritime bark extract. "The ingredient is used in 700 products. Studies show it's an anti-inflammatory and reduces cartilage breakdown." According to a 2008 study published in the "Journal of Phytotherapy Research", pycnogenol reduced all osteoarthritis symptoms by 56 percent and lowered joint pain by 55 percent.
"It's one of the building blocks of cartilage," notes "Dr. Theo." "It's a drug in other countries and a dietary supplement here in the U.S. The recommended dosage is 1,500 to 3,000 mg/day, and a higher dose may be recommended for some people." Glucosamine is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans, which are a major component of joint cartilage.
Chondroitin originally hails from the cartilage of fish or animals that's purified and sold as a dietary supplement, and Dr. Theo notes that it may be utilized for arthritic pain relief. "The dosage is 800 to 1,200 mg each day. It helps slow the breakdown of cartilage and is used as a supplement."
Kevin R. Stone, M.D., orthopaedic surgeon at the Stone Clinic in San Francisco, reminds us that human joints are similar to metal joints in that they require lubrication. "The body produces natural oil called hyaluronan. Increasing the natural oil decreases wear and tear from impact, running injuries and arthritis." That said, he recommends good old-fashioned water in its frozen form. That's right -- ice! Dr. Stone says compressing ice on the affected area for about 20 minutes an hour is effective for relieving arthritis pain. "It anesthetizes local nerve endings and decreases joint swelling."
Soft Tissue Massage
Dr. Stone advises that patients seek physical therapists with soft tissue mobility skills. He explains, "The soft tissue massage stimulates cells to reduce natural inflammation and stimulate tissue healing." Three massages for 30 minutes to one hour are recommended on a weekly basis to relieve pain.
Eunice Kan, L.Ac., at Live Well, an acupuncture and herbal medicine clinic, says acupuncture helps relieve arthritis pain and inflammation by decreasing the inflammation in the tissues and circulating blood flow smoothly throughout the body, as well as at the affected area. "Specifically for inflammatory pain such as arthritis, research has found that acupuncture moderates the peripheral sensitization stage of pain, thus decreasing the pain signals."
Also known by its technical name, S-Adenosyl methionine, this coenzyme is involved in methyl group transfers. Medical jargon aside, Dr. Theodosakis says we're not exactly sure how it works, but it has been known to relieve pain in certain people. "It's usually for patients who have osteoarthritis and depression at the same time." The dosage is 400–1,600 mg/day and is used for patients with osteoarthritis, depression and liver disease.
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